Journal Archive > 2001 > September

June Aprille

At the end of the semester, June Aprille will head to Virginia to become provost of the University of Richmond.
© Mark Morelli

Aprille worked to create a ‘sense of university’

Picture a woman wading in a calm, cool stream, watching closely for a dimple on the water, evidence of something below the surface. She casts her line, sending a delicate artificial fly through the air, wanting nothing more than to get to that rippled spot, to lure a shimmering trout onto her line.

Never mind that this particular woman, June Aprille, releases the fish as quickly as she catches it. It’s her love of the sport that offers a glimpse into what’s below the surface.

“It says something about my personality,” says Aprille, biologist, teacher, administrator and fly-fishing enthusiast. “I like to focus on an objective.”

For the past 24 years, Aprille’s professional objectives have been tied to her work at Tufts, where she has filled the roles of professor, researcher and, most recently, vice provost. On September 3, Aprille stepped down from her administrative post; at the end of the fall semester, she will leave her faculty position at Tufts to become provost full time at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

“It didn’t take long for the profession to realize what an administrative jewel she is, possessing scholarly and organizational skills as well as personal qualities rarely found in one person in our sometimes-wacky academic world,” Senior Vice President and Provost Sol Gittleman wrote in a memo to the Tufts community.

Aprille was named associate provost for academic affairs in 1995, and promoted to vice provost four years later. It was a position that hadn’t existed before, designed “to bring the schools of Tufts together around common interests,” she said.

“One scholar on his or her own might not get noticed, but pulling people together around a theme might get noticed. It creates a sense of university,” she said. Among the initiatives that came to fruition were several new institutes, cross-school centers and joint degree programs, including the Tufts Institute of the Environment; the Tufts Institute for Healthy Aging and the Tufts University Center for Children.

Aprille said she saw her role in these projects as that of a facilitator; her talent lies in getting people together and creating an atmosphere in which they can collaborate. “I must give credit to the wonderful people I had to work with,” she said. “I don’t take any credit for what happened, except to get the people together.”

The advantage of creating cross-school centers, in addition to generating external recognition for Tufts’ scholarship and research, is providing additional opportunities for Tufts students, she said. “If students in A&S never interact with faculty or students from other schools, they’re missing a lot of the potential advantages of being at a school like Tufts,” she said. “It enriches the student experience.”

And ultimately, it’s the student experience that counts the most for Aprille, who is the Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Science. Taking the administrative position at Tufts, she said, was contingent upon being able to continue teaching.

“I would not have taken the position if I had to give that up,” she said. During the fall semesters, Aprille has been among the faculty members teaching the introductory biology course “Cells and Organelles;” in the spring, she has been teaching “Cell Biology.”

The result was that for the past six years, she’s worn a path between her office in Ballou Hall and her office in the Dana labs. The result is also the existence of what Aprille has come to call her “meatloaf semester.” In January, Aprille bakes a huge meatloaf. She cuts it into small slices and freezes them for nights when she comes home too late to prepare anything else. She hopes the semester comes to an end before the meatloaf does.

“The title and function I’m most proud of is professor,” she says. “There’s something unspeakably marvelous about working with young people, getting that light bulb to go off on a subject I love and that they might have an interest in, but learn to love. “A professor can publish lots of papers, but at the end of the day, or the end of a career, or the end of your life, does it matter if you published 80 or 85 papers?” she asks. “But it does matter about the number of students who go on to do research and publish other papers and inspire the next generation of scientists.

And the best thing Tufts can do is to encourage the intellectual curiosity of those young people. “To be successful, you have to be fundamentally curious,” she said. “A lot of students come here smart, but not curious. Our job is to get them to activate their own curiosity.”

While Aprille has continued her teaching load, the area that has received less emphasis over the past six years has been research, she said. Her specialty is mitochondrial biology; her research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Hood Foundation, Eli Lilly and other private foundations.

The mitochondria are the cellular components responsible for energy metabolism—turning food into a form of energy the body can use. Her particular interest is the causes and consequences of human mitochondrial disorders.

Aprille came to Tufts in 1977, and was promoted to professor of biology in 1986. She is an adjunct professor of pediatrics at Tufts School of Medicine, a lecturer in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a consulting biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital. A native of Washington, Aprille credits her upbringing in the Pacific Northwest for her love of the outdoors. She grew up fishing with her father, but it wasn’t until 15 years ago that her friend and Tufts colleague, Benjamin Dane, introduced her to fly-fishing. “I was completely hooked, pardon the pun,” she says.

At her cabin retreat in New Hampshire, she can indulge her love of fly fishing, hiking and snowshoeing. At home in Andover, Mass., she tends her “big, big” vegetable garden; she jokes her bounty could “provide food service to all of Tufts.” And then there’s the tennis game she’s been committed to for 27 years, playing with the same group of women.

Leaving all this—and especially leaving Tufts—will not be easy, she says.

“I had a great time for 24 years. I can’t thank Tufts and my colleagues enough for the friendship and support,” she said.